Temporal order of a screenplay...

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  • Temporal order of a screenplay...

    After criticisms and revisions on my screenplay, below is one criticism that seems to be recurring in one way or another:


    "The first half of the script in particular has difficulty building tension and the driving force of the narrative arc isn't as present as it should be. The script introduces conflict, then resolves it and moves on to setup another conflict with different stakes and dynamics. This makes it hard to get invested in the characters, their relationships and what they have on the line. There's not a great sense of momentum which can cause the pace to drag. Part of the problem may be that the script doesn't do a great job locating us in [protagonist's] perspective. We need to get a clearer sense of who he is and what he wants so he can unify our experience of the story."


    There is a plot twist at the end that has been well received, but I'm having issues with the above until the third act. Right now, the screenplay is written in chronological order. Does anyone have any experience starting their screenplay in the middle or end of a story with the protagonist?



    Can mixing up the temporal order be effective enough to keep the reader engaged without confusing the plot?
    www.twitter.com/tedzarro

  • #2
    Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

    To me, it sounds like this has less to do with the order of your scenes and more to do with escalation. Conflict should be getting bigger and bigger throughout the script. Each scene should serve to create new conflict, with very little resolution until the third act. Does that make sense?
    QUESTICLES -- It's about balls on a mission.

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    • #3
      Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

      Originally posted by Knaight View Post
      To me, it sounds like this has less to do with the order of your scenes and more to do with escalation. Conflict should be getting bigger and bigger throughout the script. Each scene should serve to create new conflict, with very little resolution until the third act. Does that make sense?
      I think so...I thought conflicts were getting bigger, but maybe i'm resolving them too quickly which is killing the momentum...
      www.twitter.com/tedzarro

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      • #4
        Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

        It's not just about throwing bigger rocks at your protagonist, it's about having them grow organically out of the story, with one thing naturally leading to another. Every action your protagonist takes to make things better causes a side effect which actually makes things worse/more complicated. That way it feels clean, rather than forced, and nothing is ever "resolved," at least not until the end.
        QUESTICLES -- It's about balls on a mission.

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        • #5
          Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

          Without knowing your story, and the main goal of your protagonist, I think it's hard to give any meaningful advice.

          It sounds to me like the notes address several factors.

          It seems like it's unclear who your protagonist is and what he really wants. What is his main overriding goal in the story. What is he doing to actively achieve it. Does it seem like he really cares about it. Are his obstacles challenging enough that he has real difficulty overcoming them. Does each scene build toward the conclusion.

          It sounds like there's a series of small conflicts that are being introduced and solved along the way that don't connect or build towards the overriding goal of the protagonist. If there's a twist ending, maybe it's a twist because it wasn't clear that much was happening all along, and then finally something happened. You can't just meander along with a cypher protagonist and hope some big thing will save it all in the end. And switching around the timeline of how the story is told won't solve the fact that the story isn't compelling, or isn't being told in a compelling way. It has to be good enough to get people to want to stick it out until the twist ending.

          There are good scripts that don't adhere as tightly to certain story conventions. But if that's the case, you'd better be a really good writer, with a fascinating protagonist, and a reason for switching things up.
          "The Hollywood film business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." Hunter S Thompson

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          • #6
            Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

            Originally posted by ted zarro View Post
            "The first half of the script in particular has difficulty building tension and the driving force of the narrative arc isn't as present as it should be. The script introduces conflict, then resolves it and moves on to setup another conflict with different stakes and dynamics. This makes it hard to get invested in the characters, their relationships and what they have on the line. There's not a great sense of momentum which can cause the pace to drag. Part of the problem may be that the script doesn't do a great job locating us in [protagonist's] perspective. We need to get a clearer sense of who he is and what he wants so he can unify our experience of the story."

            There is a plot twist at the end that has been well received, but I'm having issues with the above until the third act. Right now, the screenplay is written in chronological order. Does anyone have any experience starting their screenplay in the middle or end of a story with the protagonist?

            Can mixing up the temporal order be effective enough to keep the reader engaged without confusing the plot?
            In my opinion, given that I haven't read your script, mixing up the timeline is a horrible way to solve this problem. I'm not saying scripts have to be in chronological order, by any means, but to my mind the scripts that do that well are scripts which are clearly built from the very beginning with altered chronology in mind.

            The problem is that, really, chances are those scenes are not going to be made un-boring by putting some other scene in front of them. Rather than do major surgery, look at the first half of the script and figure out why it isn't engaging people.

            If you currently have 10 pages of boring followed by 10 pages of awesome, it's tempting to say, well, let me put one of those pages of awesome up front, so they'll trust me. But now you have 1 page of awesome, followed by 10 pages of boring, followed by nine more pages of awesome.

            Yes, I'm a little more likely to keep reading because of the prospect of more awesome. But do you see what the real problem is?

            You still have 10 pages of boring. Knowing that some awesome twist is coming won't make boring scenes interesting.

            The real solution is to figure out why those pages aren't working and make them work. EVERY minute of a movie should be engaging. If half your script isn't working, that's not something you can fix just by shuffling pages around.

            Figure out how to "give us a clearer sense of who [your protagonist] is and what he wants." Figure out how to put us in his perspective, so we're sharing his emotional experience.

            That's not a problem which screams "reorder the script" to me.

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            • #7
              Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

              This is like backseat driving wearing a blindfold...

              I also don't think that rearranging the chairs on the Titanic will stop it from sinking. For one thing, playing with chronology is always done for a story reason... and not a "story doesn't work this way" reason. But the notes are not about the order of the scenes, but elements that don't work... so focus on the problems.

              "The first half of the script in particular has difficulty building tension and the driving force of the narrative arc isn't as present as it should be. The script introduces conflict, then resolves it and moves on to setup another conflict with different stakes and dynamics. This makes it hard to get invested in the characters, their relationships and what they have on the line. There's not a great sense of momentum which can cause the pace to drag.


              This sounds as if you have an episodic story instead of *one* story. That instead of having *one single conflict* you have a bunch of smaller conflicts in that first half... and maybe one conflict in the last half. Greek Unity Of Action/Event problems. You want one conflict for the whole script, and any subconflicts are *obviously* part of that one conflict. So maybe the first half of your script is filler material? Or maybe the conflicts in that first half are not *obviously* part of your one main conflict?

              "Part of the problem may be that the script doesn't do a great job locating us in [protagonist's] perspective. We need to get a clearer sense of who he is and what he wants so he can unify our experience of the story."

              This sounds as if the protagonist is sketchy, and not directly involved in the conflict. That he's just along for the ride, but has no personal stakes in the outcome. Or maybe you aren't making those stakes clear in every scene. Why is this conflict *your protagonist's* conflict and no one else in the world's conflict? And it can't just be: "Well, he answered the phone" or something. There has to be a personal connection to the conflict. Of all the freakin' Lost Arks in all of the world, the one the Nazis are after is the one that the woman Indiana Jones screwed and dumped holds the key to. And she becomes part of that adventure, meaning he *continues* to be forced to deal with her. And look at all of the tension and emotional scenes between the two - like when he tries to rescue her in that basket, fails, and she blows up in the truck, and Indy is *devastated* and gets hammered in that bar, trying to forget. Or when he finds her alive, unties her, realizes that won't work and ties her up again. And the end - when he tells her to close her eyes so that she won't be killed. Indiana Jones was not some random dude, he was the only dude who had broken the heart of the woman who had the headpiece to the staff that points the way to the ark. The action story is his emotional story. All tied together.

              There are all kinds of story ideas that have only the "action" side or only the "emotional" side... and I call those waste basket ideas. You throw them away to find the idea that has it all... and then write that.

              Again, this is backseat driving while blindfolded. I have no idea where we're going or where we are... so my advice probably stinks.

              - Bill
              Free Script Tips:
              http://www.scriptsecrets.net

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              • #8
                Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

                Originally posted by wcmartell View Post
                You want one conflict for the whole script, and any subconflicts are *obviously* part of that one conflict.
                This one.

                Yes, you can and should have bigger and better ornaments as you go along. But which conflict is your story's Christmas tree?

                Without that answer to hang them on, all you have is a box of shiny balls.

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                • #9
                  Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

                  Thanks for the replies!

                  All the feedback is very helpful, believe it or not. I know it's hard to help without knowing what the story is about.

                  Logline: "A flawed justice system forces a jaded rookie cop to choose between the safety of the public he has sworn to protect and the integrity of the badge that he wears."

                  It's a cop drama and the protagonist's whose views and choices end up being shaped by events that take place in the story. There is a bigger case (conflict) that takes place around act 2 that is integral in shaping the main character, but it's not something I weaved into the other cases that take place.

                  I think the main goal was making the conflict an inner one that lingers throughout the story, while showcasing the system's weaknesses, but it doesn't seem to get through in the writing.

                  I'll send the script along to anyone who's wanting to take a look at it.
                  www.twitter.com/tedzarro

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                  • #10
                    Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

                    Originally posted by ted zarro View Post
                    Thanks for the replies!

                    All the feedback is very helpful, believe it or not. I know it's hard to help without knowing what the story is about.

                    Logline: "A flawed justice system forces a jaded rookie cop to choose between the safety of the public he has sworn to protect and the integrity of the badge that he wears."

                    It's a cop drama and the protagonist's whose views and choices end up being shaped by events that take place in the story. There is a bigger case (conflict) that takes place around act 2 that is integral in shaping the main character, but it's not something I weaved into the other cases that take place.

                    I think the main goal was making the conflict an inner one that lingers throughout the story, while showcasing the system's weaknesses, but it doesn't seem to get through in the writing.

                    I'll send the script along to anyone who's wanting to take a look at it.
                    I see some issues in your logline right off the bat, which seem like what the note described about your script. It's really vague, full of words and generalities that tell us nothing.

                    The terms "jaded" and "rookie" don't really go together. If he's still a rookie, how "jaded" can he be? Unless he was just a jaded person to begin with, I guess. But wouldn't something like "disillusioned" be a better choice to describe a rookie?

                    And then you set up some vague choice that seems nonsensical. Protecting the safety of the public would be upholding the integrity of the badge he wears, in most people's minds. So you read that and go, huh?

                    Then your synopsis, again, points to what the notes were about. It sounds like the first half of the script is episodic stuff, having nothing to do with the real story. And then a big case happens "around Act 2". Act 2 is the bulk of the script. There's a big difference as to where this happens in Act 2. Can't you introduce this case at the beginning? If that's your story, it sounds like you are starting your story entirely too late. Like maybe you are hung up on showing a bunch of back-story first.

                    Just think about any movie. Take DIE HARD, since that seems to be an example film everyone uses. Granted, I've never seen it, gasp. But you don't have John McClane in New York working on smaller crimes for the first half of the film, and then decide to fly to L.A. and visit his wife in the middle of Act 2. I don't think.
                    "The Hollywood film business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." Hunter S Thompson

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                    • #11
                      Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

                      From the feedback you have provided it seems the reader is saying that your narrative is episodic. You set up one conflict, play with it for a while, lead the reader to think this is what the whole story is going to be about, and then end or abandon that conflict after a few dozen pages to move on to something completely different. Your script is always starting, stopping, and starting over, leaving the reader wonder just what the hell the story is REALLY supposed to be all about. It sounds like your script lacks a clear, strong STORY SPINE (which, in my experience, is the main source of problems in most developing writers' scripts). A good story spine unites every element of the story and gives events enough focus and direction to unravel in what feels like one long, connected thread.

                      At least this is what it sounds like to me from the feedback you have provided. Your specific problem may be different however. (maybe it's just poorly-written feedback)

                      Not to pimp my own methods too hard, but here is the low-down on the "Story Spine" as I refer to it. I provide this in case this is the road your script needs to follow. "Story Spine" means something different depending on who you ask.
                      scribbler screenwriting blog-o-zine - Celebrating its fifth year of bloggerdom!

                      Download a copy of Screenwriting Down to the Atoms : The Absolute Essentials Edition completely FREE!

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                      • #12
                        Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

                        Originally posted by ted zarro View Post
                        Thanks for the replies!

                        All the feedback is very helpful, believe it or not. I know it's hard to help without knowing what the story is about.

                        Logline: "A flawed justice system forces a jaded rookie cop to choose between the safety of the public he has sworn to protect and the integrity of the badge that he wears."

                        It's a cop drama and the protagonist's whose views and choices end up being shaped by events that take place in the story. There is a bigger case (conflict) that takes place around act 2 that is integral in shaping the main character, but it's not something I weaved into the other cases that take place.

                        I think the main goal was making the conflict an inner one that lingers throughout the story, while showcasing the system's weaknesses, but it doesn't seem to get through in the writing.

                        I'll send the script along to anyone who's wanting to take a look at it.
                        I have to tell you that even based on your description, the problem that the other readers have talked about seems pretty obvious.

                        Your protagonist deals with various cases that shapes his perspective over the first act. Then a bigger case that he has to deal with in the second act. Then some kind of twist in the third act -- but what you haven't really talked about is the central problem.

                        That is, the story doesn't necessarily have to be about solving a particular case. There are movies, like Prince of the City, for instance that are about police corruption. But it's clear that that's what the story is about. The protagonist's problem is clear. The moral landscape of the story is clear and it isn't about a particular case or a group of cases per se, but rather the various characters and situations are designed to bring that moral issue -- and whatever moral issue is at the heart of your story -- into focus.

                        But the moral issue, as you've described it, is really vague. Is the department corrupt? Are his fellow officers on the book?

                        The moral landscape generally comes down to -- this is the thing that is most important to me -- pride, loyalty, patriotism, the love of my life, whatever.

                        Now -- what is going to challenge that thing? What am I going to have to give that up for? How important is it really?

                        And that's the question that the story answers from beginning to end and which becomes the theme.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

                          Originally posted by ted zarro View Post
                          Can mixing up the temporal order be effective enough to keep the reader engaged without confusing the plot?
                          I read it today.

                          It's not the "temporal order" and the plot itself is not confusing. It's not episodic either.

                          There's a little bit of guessing early on because we're not really sure who the protag is - but then again, if a young Jack Nicholson played Alonzo (and the other characters were as watchable), we'd know and we'd stick with it.

                          It's arc and theme and provocation work. You need more provocation to turn the protag. Scenes need to be more representative of who he is at both ends of the arc and as he's changing. Alonzo's got Lou pulling him one way but nobody pulling him back. Theme, even argument, is there, but it's not "embedded" in the characters, worlds, events etc. Stuff like that.

                          I've PM'd you some more thoughts.
                          Story Structure 1
                          Story Structure 2
                          Story Structure 3

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                          • #14
                            Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

                            Thanks everybody, this is all good stuff that I need to work on. I will make this right.

                            Special shout out to Timmy for reading it and giving the extra pointers.

                            Time to tell my ego it's gonna be OK and get back to work.
                            www.twitter.com/tedzarro

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                            • #15
                              Re: Temporal order of a screenplay...

                              Ted, you wrote "Temporal order..."

                              Did you mean Linear Order?

                              Are we talking about the same thing?

                              Or should I go to bed?
                              sigpic

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